Page 1973 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 25 June 2008

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National Gas (ACT) Bill 2008

Debate resumed from 8 May 2008, on motion by Mr Stanhope:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (7.46): I am going to speak in support of this bill, which establishes some collective rules that will apply to all gas companies across Australia, whether for infrastructure, distributors or regulators. Despite the Greens’ concerns about national electricity market harmonisation overall, which I will go into in a moment, this bill is generally a sensible one.

The reform or harmonisation of the national electricity market, as agreed at COAG’s Ministerial Council on Energy meetings, has been happening steadily in the background without much, if any, input by state and territory governments. Especially now that Australia has Labor governments across all states and federally, an ever-increasing number of decisions are being made at COAG level, meaning that decisions are not subject to the usual scrutiny that parliaments would otherwise have. This means that these decisions can be made by ministers and their advisers without any public or stakeholder input and without any community consultation; we should be satisfied if they take external views into account at all. It seems that COAG is the new government that counts. It is appointed by premiers and chief ministers, not elected by people.

There is no doubt that it makes sense to have a national agreement on energy issues. In the ACT the majority of our gas comes from Moomba in South Australia, with some from New South Wales and some from Victoria. It is then distributed through New South Wales and into the ACT. National agreements are necessary in this context.

What is frustrating is the process of national energy reform whereby South Australia is deemed the lead legislator for national energy and gas legislation. Under this proposed bill, the new national gas law, the regulations and also the national gas rules which were agreed to in South Australia last week will be applied in all Australian jurisdictions by acts which apply the National Gas (South Australia) Act 2008 on 1 July.

Given the process through which this legislation has been developed, it is a farce to even discuss the matter here in this chamber. The agreements have already been made at the ministerial council level; even though the states and territories are going through the motions of debating the bill in each place, in actual fact the bill that just passed in South Australia is the only one that counts.

A colleague in South Australia, Mark Parnell, put some amendments forward which would take social and environmental aspects into account. However, these were defeated by the two major parties as there was significant pressure there in South Australia not to make any changes at all. Mr Parnell is concerned that the South Australian government is not the lead legislator but the lead rubber stamp for the energy reforms.

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